Six years ago 30,000 activist women from 181 countries met in Beijing
for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. The delegates
produced a formal document which addressed the major problems of women
world-wide, such issues as education, health, economic opportunity and
freedom from violence. They left full of hope.
Five years later women from 180 nations met at the U. N. in New York for
Beijing+5. And guess what. Rather than concentrating on expanding the
basic rights of women, they had to fight to keep from losing the gains
they thought they had made in Beijing.
This week representatives from Afghanistan are meeting in U. N.
sponsored talks in Bonn to discuss the future of that country. About a
year ago the Security Council passed a resolution which requires the
inclusion of women in all peace processes. Secretary General Kofi
Annan pointed out the need to represent all Afghans, saying that women's
"active participation in the social and political life of the nation is
essential for the country's peaceful future." But it's going to be a
The tragic situation of women in Afghanistan is neither new nor is it an
isolated situation, but at last some of the women's voices are being
We in America are aware of what women are suffering in many parts of the
world, but those practices are commonplace and don't seem to bother us
much. In India it is acceptable to douse wives with gasoline and set
them afire because they do not contribute enough to the family. The
practice of genital mutilation of young girls is still prevalent in many
African and Asian societies, although the practice did became illegal in
Colorado a couple of years ago. In Bosnia thousands of women were
subject to rape as a tactic or prize of war. The appalling treatment
of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan has finally become a
Laura Bush delivered the weekly Presidential address recently. She
said, "All of us have an obligation to speak out. Fighting brutality
against women and children is not the expression of a specific culture;
it is the acceptance of our common humanity - a commitment shared by
people of good will on every continent. . . The fight against terrorism
is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women." We hope she is
speaking for her husband on this issue.
The women of Afghanistan are beginning to emerge from their burkas
Among professionals in pre-Taliban society, women constitute 60 % of the
educators, 40% of the physicians and 50% of the government workers.
Dr. Rahima Zafar Staniczai, head of the Rabia Balkhi hospital for women
remembers how the religious police would beat her in the street and spit
on her if they caught her rushing to the hospital in the middle of the
night uncovered. But she understands the real priorities. "First we
need peace. Then we need a central government. Then we need
education. Then we will be in a position to make a decision on the
Soraya Parlika is Afghanistan's most prominent women's activist and has
been working for years in the underground women's movement. She planned
to lead the march of unveiled women to the U. N. compound in Kabul last
week to demand that women be included in any future government, but the
police would not allow the march. They said they could not provide
adequate protection. She says, "I just want to tell the world that
women should be able to speak out about their own problems." And she is
determined to make the Afghans -- and the world -- listen.
Columnist Maureen Dowd spoke for many Americans. "If the U. S. can bomb
a path to victory for the Northern Alliance, we can lay down some terms
for what women can attain in the new Afghanistan. And if the U. S. can
go to war to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait, we can move the
bar up a notch for women there too.
So why on earth don't we?"